If I was writing this essay six weeks ago, it would have had a much different tone. Coming out of election day in early November, it was reasonably clear that President Trump had narrowly lost re-election but in the process had enough coattails to avoid a mandate by Joe Biden and any kind of “blue wave”, while improving Republican strength in the House, probably avoiding loss of the Senate majority, and adding measurably to Republican strength in state legislatures. He was also contemplating a legacy in which he would be remembered much more significantly for leadership on many policy choices that will make a positive difference for Americans than for the personality characteristics and governance style that ultimately led to his defeat. Unfortunately, over the next two months, this outcome was crushed in a wave of his disastrous narcissistic decisions in pursuit of massive election fraud devoid of any compelling evidence topped by the avoidable loss of the two Georgia Senate seats and the disgraceful and criminal storming of the nation’s Capitol by thuggish elements among his supporters in an attempt to force the overturn of the Electoral College vote.
This was all about him and his egomaniacal instincts and it could have been avoided if, on December 14, the day of both the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his appeal of the Pennsylvania election result and the certification of the Electoral College vote by the 50 states, he had called a press conference to concede defeat, congratulate Joe Biden, and commit to an orderly transition, while keeping his attorneys active in pursuing credible election fraud evidence, and then concentrating his attention on the Georgia Senate runoff elections to salvage control of the Senate. Alas, at long last, this was too much to ask of such a narcissist.
So now, after being impeached for the second time, we are left to consider what remains of Trump’s legacy. First, as I write, it is pretty clear that he will not be convicted by the Senate, for even though the charges brought are probably impeachable for a sitting President, they are probably not so as applied to a former President being tried as a private citizen. That remains to be seen.
As for his legacy, beyond and despite his disgraceful exit and the disruptive personality traits that have been central to his rule, I believe that there are several items that will stand up to the test of time as consequential for his presidency, as follows:
- At the top of this list must be his judicial appointments–over 230 federal judges, 55 appellate court justices, and three Supreme Court Justices–which will assure that Constitutional originalism will be a compelling theme in the American judicial system for several decades and provide a bulwark against a lot of goofy stuff coming from the progressive left, barring a catastrophic “packing” of the Supreme Court.
- For all the wailing about the abuses of China sheltered by its membership in the World Trade Organization by the three preceding administrations, Trump was the only one to really do anything about it. Not enough and too much weighted toward tariffs as a response, but he successfully called them out for a range of trade sanctions, outright theft, violation of the Hong Kong treaty, and human rights abuses, not to mention their primary responsibility for the Covid pandemic.
- He launched Operation Warp Speed for the development of Covid vaccines, one of the greatest public health achievements in U. S. history. Prior to that, the record for the fastest vaccine development was four years; Operation Warp Speed did it in nine months. There should be a Nobel or comparable prize somewhere for that.
- He completely transformed the Middle East in the negotiation of the Abraham Accords, which encompassed four Arab-Israeli peace accords and trade agreements, the first such agreements in more than 25 years, and he did it by rejecting the received wisdom of the “peace industry” led by John Kerry that there could be no separate peace without the Palestinians and by confronting Iranian aggression. The big question here is, will Biden throw away this major accomplishment to return to a bad nuclear agreement with Iran?
- Last, but certainly not least, is the rise of “the deplorables”. He built his political base by recognizing millions of Americans who were not being well-served by the globalized economy and the Davos type elites who run it and whose country and culture had been hijacked by the postmodernism, identity politics, and anti-Americanism fed to them by its cultural and educational institutions. Last November, over 74 million of these long-forgotten people voted for his brand of populist nationalism and only a very small fraction of them would ever harbor a thought of storming the nation’s capitol. Trump may now be gone from active political life, but Trumpism is deep and wide and will survive and grow.